Sitting and Breathing: Day 29

I know, I know – it was supposed to be a 28 day program, but I didn’t do anything yesterday so here we are. Happy Valentine’s Day to those who celebrate it.

As the photo here shows, I occasionally let my dog play too rough. I have fun, he has fun, but often I get a little damaged. That photo was taken about a week ago, right before I found out I was getting the barbacking gig at the fancy place (my first day is today, by the way). Since then, I’ve been careful to only use his tug-of-war rope so that my hand had time to heal. For the most part, it worked very well and he was very cooperative.

Then I got home from work last night, and after walking him around the block, where he both peed and pooped, I returned to my room to find a large poop in the middle of the floor. Now, I move my bed out of my room and lock up all my things each time I leave the house so he has a decent space to play in, and also to account for his mishaps. So really, this is kind of par for the course. But yesterday I was really looking forward to coming home, putting my bed back in my room, and getting a good night sleep in preparation for today’s shift, which I’ve been a little nervous about.

The poop in the middle of my floor meant that I had to clean the floor, but the smell clearly meant I was sleeping on the couch, and that pissed me off. I punched the wall and opened up two of my knuckles in the process. So now, not only was I not going to get a good night’s sleep, but my hand also had two fresh wounds on it because I couldn’t control my anger in that moment. I did not go to sleep in the best of moods.

I also did not wake up in the best of moods. The couch just isn’t as comfortable as my bed, and it smells like dog, and of course, Maximus woke me up like fives times this morning asking to go outside.

So! I finished reading the last bits of Real Happiness, and sat myself down for some good ol’ breathing. Holy crap did I need that. In the last bits of the book, she discusses how the point of continual meditation practice is not to become better at meditation, but to become better at life. I don’t sit and breath so that I can master sitting and breathing, I do it so that it connects me on a deeper level with myself, my emotions, and the events, people, and dogs in my life.

My practice itself hasn’t improved much over the course of the last month. I still get easily distracted, I still get washed away by torrents of emotion, I still get bored and restless just like I did on day one. But I will say that minus punching the wall yesterday, I have a much different way of interacting with my emotions. Meditation has, of course, made me no less of a human being – no less prone to the ups and downs of my own mind or less likely to experience positive and negative occurrences – but it has given me a powerful tool when it comes to my perception of those things.

So ends my series on Sitting and Breathing, but my journey on the road to better understanding the intricacies of my world feels like it’s just beginning, or at least beginning anew. Next up on the reading docket is Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Enlightenment by Joseph Goldstein. I will keep you abreast of what I learn there, and regale you with more tales of my nonsense going forward.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to read about my journey thus far, and I look forward to continuing it with you.

Sitting and Breathing: Day 17

Prime numbers, amiright?! Today’s meditation was the flip of day 15, in that I was to call up positive emotions instead of negative ones, then focus on the sensations that those feelings begat.

Pretty much the moment I hit center and was able to focus on my breathing, my dog popped into my mind. My mind conjured an image of him hugging me, and of him holding his head against mine while I pet him. I felt my love for him and his for me in that moment. Warmth radiated out from my center and I felt my face contort in that kind of weird smile people do when they’re overwhelmed by happiness (it bares some similarities to sadness in that everything pulls back and you get teary-eyed).

Then I mentally meandered for a while, trying to imagine this thing or that thing to illicit the positive emotions I was shooting for. My mind flitted through the various women I’m currently interested in, and I imagined being with them, around them, near them, etc, but honestly most of the things I imagined were just daydreams, and not actual events from my past, so I feel like those didn’t count.

I tried thinking of different words for happiness. My usual self-speak kicked in, and I was reminded of my many failures recently and farther in the past. Finally I remembered that I made a bar for myself! I felt awash with accomplishment. It had a similar radiating warmth, and I felt myself sit up straighter, and a smile pulled itself onto my face.

I refocused on my breathing, and found myself putting a lot of mental attention on my alarm and when it would be going off. When I tried pinpointing the reason for my shift in attention, I realized I was anxious about it going off. I was worried that if it went off right then (or in the immediate future), I wouldn’t have really done today’s session right. I wouldn’t have maximized my Good Feels Meditation Day because I how could I? My life is largely in shambles and so on and so forth.

I caught myself before getting too far down that rabbit hole, then took a moment to be happy about that. It wasn’t elation, necessarily, but should elation be the standard for positive emotions? I don’t think so. I think that there’s a whole range of small pleasures worth paying attention to, and if you’re looking for them, you’ll find plenty peppered throughout your day. If I’m looking, they tend to be there.

Back to breathing. And this fuckin’ itch that wouldn’t go away on the left side of my face! I caved and scratched it, which was serendipitous in that it reminded me I just got a tattoo I’ve wanted for almost a decade! I felt giddy! Again, radiating warmth, but also the smile that pulled itself onto my face was tighter than the other ones. My shoulders hunched up and my hands clenched, and I rode the feeling back to my breath.

My alarm went off, and I was largely pleased with the way today’s practice went. I veered off course a few times, but I was able to bring myself back, which is the whole point. After my meditation, I was reminded of a number of other reasons why my life isn’t so bad right now. I’m doing a lot of things that I absolutely love, and I’m doing them with a passion I haven’t had in a while. This blog is a fine example of that, as are the subjects of my happy thoughts for today.

Pleasantness in its many forms sits around us all day just waiting to be noticed – we just have to be looking. I’m gonna look harder.

Sitting and Breathing: Day 7

I did not start the day well. I woke up a little later than I anticipated, so I rescheduled my first free trial class of Jiu Jitsu at the gym I had found close by. The dog was getting on my nerves a little more than usual. I was upset about the trash and the lack of groceries and the tree outside (I just took down my Christmas tree, and it only made it as far as the fire escape). I started reading my meditation book, but I just couldn’t focus. I was hungry, and I hadn’t had coffee, and I was frustrated – my attention was all over the place.

I decided to get up and do something about all of those feelings before I began my second week of meditation practice. I walked the dog around the block. I walked to a local cafe I’d been meaning to check out to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee while just being present, a task I usually love, but today it didn’t work quite like I wanted it to. The music in the small shop was some sort of Ukrainian pop house music, which isn’t ideal for relaxation. Financial news was running on a TV at both ends of the place, with tickers and scrolling headlines and a general jumble of nothing but incredibly important information. The coffee was good, but they brought it in a foam cup, which to me negated the point of me ordering it for there.

In my haze of frustration, I decided to use Dr. Brené Brown’s voice and resonant worldviews to soothe me. First I looked up her bio and found out that she hadn’t even gotten her bachelor’s degree until she was 30, which immediately put me at greater ease. Okay, I thought, I can still do this. After settling into the first few minutes of her audio book and finishing my coffee, I wandered to the two stores I had to go to in order to get everything on my list, and a few extra things determined by whimsy (like strawberry jam cookies).

After I got back home, put away the groceries, and had a snack, I felt ready to pick up the book again. Like in Week One, I read all of the material associated with Week Two first, then went back and reread the meditation instructions for today – Body Scan Meditation. I set myself up on my yoga mat, reset myself up after my dog whined outside my bedroom door and I brought him in and put him in his kennel, then reset myself up a final time after removing the bones he was banging against the sides of the kennel.

I closed my eyes and mentally scanned from the top of my head down to my chin, then down the back side of my head and neck, then along the sides. I moved my attention down my arms and felt each finger tip individually. Then I went down my torso, all the way to my feet, where I primarily noticed the pressure of my heels against the mat.

That journey throughout my person wasn’t quite as straightforward as that, though. I spent what felt like a lot of time lost in my thoughts. I’m infatuated with a coworker, and I kept seeing her radiant smile. I kept enjoying my stored mental loop of her gait. I replayed little tidbits of what she’s said to me or in groups that I found funny or endearing. Then I’d spend time thinking about how I was going to tell all of you about those thoughts and their intrusion. Suffice it to say, I worded it better before I sat down at my computer.

My coworker appeared a lot today, but there were other distractions, too. Fantasies about the lunch I’d make for myself, confusion about whether or not the gentle water noises and birds chirping was the alarm I had set, or just the outside world, thoughts about when this lying down thing would be over. I was, however, able to continuously bring my focus back inside my body. Feeling my the contact points with the floor, feeling what was getting heavier and what was getting lighter after the 18 or so minutes I had been there.

Finally the alarm did go off. I opened my eyes and slowly rose form the mat. I will say that much of the stress inhabiting my body earlier has vanished. I am presently more relaxed and less heavy. I don’t think that any of my problems were solved in those 20 minutes – they’re still waiting for me now, actually – but I am able to consider them as truths, and let them stay there. The fact about most of them is that their existence doesn’t adversely impact this moment that I’m in, or the next.

I’m not going to ignore them because they all very much need addressing, but I’m also not going to let them ruin whatever I’m doing right now, and I’m pretty sure that’s the whole point. Or at least that’s what I’m getting from this experience so far. I look forward to upping it to four sessions this week. Until tomorrow!

Sitting and Breathing: Day 5

I’ve considered coming up with more creative titles for these posts, but meh…

Anyway, today went (in my opinion) really well. I felt sort of frenzied beforehand because I’ve imposed a lot of deadlines on myself for getting certain things done (planning to move to Europe and get an advanced degree apparently involves a lot of steps), and today was going to be my day to knock some of those things out.

Given that I work at a bar that doesn’t close until 4am, that usually means I’m not home until at least 5:30am, which means I’m not asleep until 6:30am, which means I’m not awake until 12:30pm. By the time I’ve walked and fed my dog, made coffee and breakfast (lunch) for myself, and settled into any kind of head space for getting things done, it’s already 2pm.

I put my anxiety about my to-do list aside (my realization that it was MLK Day, and many things are closed today helped), and reread the directions for the Letting-Go-of-Thought Meditation on my schedule for today. I put my dog in his kennel, set my alarm for 21 minutes out, and sat, and breathed.

In essence, the task for today was to say, breath to myself on every inhale and every exhale. When a thought or sensation arose – positive or negative – I was to label it not breath and return my focus to the breathing. I found it to be fairly easy to return to my breathing today. I’m not sure if that’s a cumulative effect or today was just a good day, but it was heartening.

Likely as a result of my time in JROTC and ROTC, I have an internal voice that calls me Farrell, and when it chides me it sounds a lot like it’s a drill instructor. Honestly, though, the drill instructor voice was pretty quiet today, and didn’t add much to my experience. The soft-spoken hippie woo woo voice that I’ve developed internally over my years of exposure to counter culture was much more chatty today, and surprisingly, more difficult to shut up.

My mind would wander to things I was upset about, hippie voice would say, “It’s okay that you feel angry.” Then I’d imagine myself in a field lightly scattered with trees, sun shining, wind blowing through my hair, and he’d say, “It’s important to stay in the moment, remember, the point of…”

“Shut up, Hippie! You are ‘not breath!'” I finally told him. Then I laughed, and focused on my breathing again. While I appreciate his input, he makes it difficult to concentrate on a given moment with his kind, considerate prattling on. We get it, you eat organic and recycle, and you dole out self-love like it’s going out of style. Thank you, now shush.

The time seemed to fly by today, which I attribute largely to my attention on each breath component, as opposed to the experience as a whole. I’ve also been able to pepper in some mini-meditations in the past couple days. I’m a doorman at the late-night bar, which means I spend a lot of time by myself in a foyer, staring out a 1′ x 1′ window.

As you might imagine, this allows for a lot of reflection. When I’m not interacting with guests, I spend a lot of time lost in my own thoughts, but last night, I also spent some time here and there just focusing on my breath and on the individual sights and sounds being presented to me. I let them enter and exit my consciousness, then put my attention back on the sensation of inhaling and exhaling (my left nostril is still fucked up, if you were wondering).

Last night, I pondered whether or not my years of exposure to hippies or studying psychology put me ahead of the pack when it comes to self awareness, but I think it ultimately doesn’t make any difference in this endeavor. The truth of the matter is that everyone – from monks to plumbers – can improve on what they’re working with. The practice of meditation is not a cure for the human condition, but a coping mechanism that we can always be better at employing right now. Or now.

Or now. Especially now. Point is, I’m enjoying this.

Clever Title Re: Online Dating

Nothing says, “your life is different than it was” like walking your previously nonexistent dog down a snow-coated alley surrounded by tightly packed brick buildings. It’s so counter to what kinds of things filled my senses four months ago, that it’s comical and jarring and beautiful. On the flip side, nothing says, “your life is the same” like my restless right and left swiping on dating apps.

As it happens, I spend a fair amount of time each day on Tinder or OKCupid doing not much of anything at all. I swipe left and right based solely on a three second judgment of a person’s appearance. Sometimes, if I find their photos particularly attractive, I’ll take a second to read what they have to say about themselves. Then I find myself falling in love (maybe only to a small degree, but that’s definitely what the feeling is) with a person I’ve never met, based on five photos and an elevator pitch.

Brief aside: get your artsy landscape photos out of your profile pictures. That’s what Instagram is for, and you’re slowing down my rapid-fire judgments of a person’s potential for connectivity with your bullshit about flowers. 

Anyway, I don’t spend much time talking to people on dating apps. Presently, I have 215 matches on Tinder and more on OKCupid, and I’m only passively engaged in one conversation and actively engaged in none. I find that my reasons for being on the app as opposed to seeking out dates in a more “traditional” fashion, are the same reasons that I don’t end up actually dating or establishing a meaningful connection with these people – lack of money, lack of time, or lack of emotional currency.

I can’t tell how upset I am about that. I feel like I want a connection with someone. I feel like if my brain is trying to tell me anything with all of its daydreaming, it’s that having a partner would be nice. Then I think about it more, and I find myself wholly satisfied with the quality time I spend with my dog, the quality time I spend on Pornhub (separate quality times), and the quality time I spend with myself, writing or reading or doing whatever random thing pops into my head.

I like this life, and it feels like adding another human to it holds the potential to bring all that enjoyment to a screeching halt. Then I’ll have to deal with a whole other person worth of nonsense, and I just don’t want to. If history is any indicator, I’ll do a complete 180 on that pretty soon and dive headlong into a doomed-from-the-start relationship with someone who would have been perfectly happy having never met me. I’ll make it through about a year of an emotional whirlwind of happiness, anger, and ultimately sadness, and the cycle will start anew. 

Ah well. *SWIPE*

Catching Up With Friends

Considering that I used to see this particular friend on a daily basis, it’d been quite a while since we got the chance to hang out. She was a “traveling kid,” meaning that she hopped trains and hitchhiked her way up, down, and across the country. She also happens to be around my age, intelligent, and particularly attractive, so of course, our closeness was suspect to my girlfriend at the time.

She and I were standing in the kitchen, beers in hand, and I was ritualistically chiding her for wasting her biology degree from UC Berkeley when Girlfriend said, “I’m going out for a smoke if you want one.” It was less of an invitation, and more of a demand.

She puffed impatiently at the cigarette while she told me that she didn’t like how close we were standing. “I feel like you two are doing your own little thing and I’m not allowed in the conversation at all!”

She was right – we were blocking her out for the sake of expedience. When you’re friends with someone for years and you see each other every day, you develop a kind of conversational shorthand that can be exclusive. That, and Girlfriend’s attitude wasn’t exactly making either of us thrilled about having her jump in.

At some point while we were outside, my friend got a call from a fellow traveling kid, informing her that their mutual acquaintance had died. I can’t recall from what exactly – the traveling lifestyle is wrought with dangerous activities like jumping onto fast-moving metal death boxes, riding those death boxes through harsh climates, catching rides with total strangers, and frequent meth and heroin use.

I’m not sure how close they were, either, but my friend was clearly rocked by the news. I did my best to console her, but my expressions of loving sympathy were too much for Girlfriend to handle. She went off the rails (pun intended), and started screaming at my friend. “Don’t think you can just come in here and take MY! BOYFRIEND! with me sitting right fucking here!”

My friend choked back tears and tried to explain that she wanted none of this sweet, sweet lovin’, but there was no getting through the wall of rage and jealousy Girlfriend had quietly been erecting the whole night. All she saw was red.

Finally my friend had had enough of being screamed at while simultaneously mourning the loss of her companion, and she ran out my front door, face in her hands. Girlfriend started after her, and in an attempt to stop the situation from continuing its downward spiral, I grabbed her in a bear hug. She flailed for a second, then reached around and grabbed the underside of my bicep and pinched as hard as she could until I let go. Then she ran out the door after her grieving target.

I took a breath, assessing how much I cared about continuing my involvement. I stared at the recently-slammed door thinking, “If I just lock it…” I sighed, in part because I was out of breath from the struggle, and in part because I knew I had to do something; I needed to help my friend at a minimum. I ran out the door, and found my friend sitting on the grass around the corner, still crying, with my girlfriend knife-handing and yelling in her face.

“Go back inside!” I yelled. I’m not sure why I thought that would work, but it did. She ran back to the apartment. I got about three sentences into trying to make my friend feel better when Girlfriend rounded the corner, steaming back in our direction. There was murder in her eyes, so I apologized to my friend then ran to intercept her.

We went back to the apartment to consume vastly more alcohol, and puff away at countless more cigarettes. My friend took the opportunity to find respite elsewhere, Girlfriend took the opportunity to continue belittling me as best she could for being a philanderer, and I took the opportunity to daydream alternatively about being single and being dead on a train track in the middle of nowhere – both sounded pretty awesome in that moment.

I eventually chose the former, but not before proving Girlfriend right. “If I’m constantly being accused of cheating no matter what I do, then I might as well be enjoying the thing I’m in trouble for,” I thought. Or I could have been an adult and just broken it off, but that’s just not my MO.

A Not-So-Brief Review of A Not-So-Brief Engagement – Part IV

We were on the Coast Starlight Train heading north after my mother’s wedding, just past sunset and San Francisco. The conversation turned to our status as relationship partners, as it often does after a wedding. She told me that she had fallen in love her 54 year old writing partner. “Honestly, I haven’t exactly been present lately and you’ve been working closely on an emotionally intense project. I’m obviously upset, but so long as you haven’t acted on it or communicated that to him, I think it’s something we can work on.”

We agreed that we were both at fault and she assured me that she had come to me first, but I hadn’t exactly cooled off by the time the train came to a halt in Sacramento. It was about 1am, there weren’t any cabs and Uber didn’t exist, so we were walking home. It’s tough to communicate your anger in your stride when you’ve got large rolling bags trailing behind you.

When we got home, I was putting things away, and she was typing frantically on her laptop in the next room. That wasn’t exactly out of character given that she was a poet, but this seemed different. I asked her what she was writing, and she said “nothing,” which was definitely out of character. I asked to see her computer – nothing in the sent folder, but there’s a Trash folder in just about every email ever in case you weren’t aware. She was unaware.

“I told Sean that I loved you tonight.” I don’t remember what the rest of it said, but I’m pretty sure that’s not something you say unless you’ve talked about it previously.

“Get out of my home.” I felt confident that the proportion of the bills I was paying allowed me that sentence, so I went for it. She packed a couple bags for immediate use, and I did my best not to talk to her. It was late, and I caved in the face of her crying, and said it would be fine if she stayed there for the night, but the next morning she had to leave.

She did, and that was the end of our engagement and that three-year chapter of our young lives. I waffled on my conviction to end it, but her choice to move in with the subject of her infatuation made it easy to maintain a hard line on both sides. With the gift of hindsight, it was the right choice for a litany of reasons, but when you’re young and in love, it’s nearly impossible to see straight.

I made similar mistakes in the name of love since, and I’ll likely make them again in the future. I drink in spite of the hangover, and I fall in love knowing that it’ll come to a crushing end eventually. I’m a strong proponent of jumping off the cliff and figuring it out on the way down – the rush is worth it.